Heavy favorite Essential Quality wins 2021 Belmont Stakes

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ELMONT, NEW YORK - JUNE 05:  Essential Quality with Luis Saez up wins the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes as Hot Rod Charlie with Flavien Prat up finishes second  at Belmont Park on June 05, 2021 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Essential Quality was the favorite for a reason. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

In the shadow of a scandal surrounding one of the biggest names in horse racing, Essential Quality took home the win at the 2021 Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

The heavy favorite pulled away late in the race, holding off Hot Rod Charlie in a thrilling two-horse competition down the stretch. Hot Rod Charlie finished a length back in place, while Preakness winner Rombauer showed.

Essential Quality entered the race at 6-5 odds in the eight-horse field. He had been the favorite entering the Kentucky Derby as well, only to finish in fourth place after getting bumped and losing position when the race began. The horse did not compete at the Preakness.

The horse's win is the first Triple Crown win for trainer Brad Cox, though it also comes with controversy due to owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The United Arab Emirates prime minister faced calls for a ban entering the Kentucky Derby due to the disappearance of his daughter.

While Essential Quality's win was the story of the day, coverage of the race before Saturday was dominated by who wasn't allowed to participate.

Another bizarre Triple Crown comes to a close

Not in the Belmont field on Saturday was 2021 Kentucky Derby winner (for now) Medina Spirit.

The horse and its legendary trainer Bob Baffert were banned from the Belmont Stakes last month in light of a positive test for the regulated steroid betamethasone.

Medina Spirit's wire-to-wire win at Churchill Downs has been in doubt since the positive test on May 9. Baffert initially reacted by claiming the horse had eaten some hay that had another horse's tainted urine on it and labeling the saga as "cancel culture." That defense was pulled back a day later when Baffert admitted the horse was treated for dermatitis on its hind end with an ointment containing the substance, which is not allowed to be used less than 14 days before a race.

The decision to disqualify Medina Spirit now rests with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, but Baffert has already banned from Churchill Downs for two years. If Medina Spirit is disqualified, Cox will get his second Triple Crown win as well, having trained runner-up Mandaloun.

Medina Spirit ended up competing in the Preakness, finishing a distant third behind Rombauer after leading for much of the race.

All of that added up to yet another atypical set of Triple Crown races. The 2019 season featured Maximum Security's infamous disqualification for veering into the path of another horse, while 2020 was obviously thrown into chaos due to the rescheduling required by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sports' stewards can only hope things get a little more normal in 2022.

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